As the much doubted domino effect of the popular Arab revolt takes root, President Bouteflika of Algeria is seemingly the next to face the wrath of his people after the departure of Ben Ali of Tunisia and Mubarak of Egypt. Despite an overwhelming deployment of police forces, Saturday, thousands of protesters gathered in various cities around Algeria — Algiers, Oran, Annaba, Boumerdès, among others — to demand the departure of the ruling government and the installment of a free and democratic society.
“It is only the beginning!”, said Fodil Boumala, an academic, author, and one of the brains behind the Coordination Nationale pour le Changement et la Démocratie (CNCD), the group that organized Saturday’s demonstration in Algiers, the Algerian capital. “We will continue to protest, to defy this government until it falls”, said opposition leader of Rassemblement pour la Culture et la Démocratie (RDC), Saïd Sadi.
Notwithstanding a ban on demonstrations in the country, and the deployment of some 30,000 policemen in Algiers, alone, to clampdown on demonstrators, over 2000 people, according to journalists (250, according to government sources) gathered Saturday morning at La Place de Premier Mai in Algiers. “Out Bouteflika!”, “A free and democratic Algeria”, “No to a police state!”, read some of the many placards carried by the protesters. Politicians, university lecturers and professors, students, professionals, among other Algerian citizens gathered with the aim of marching to La Place des Martyrs. They were however stopped by a sea of security forces.
Many opposition leaders were seen demonstrating among the protesters. They included Ali Belhadj, one of the leaders of the Islamist Salvation Front (FIS — Front Islamiste du Salut), a banned group, and Saïd Sadi of Rassemblement pour la Culture et la Démocratie, a sworn enemy of the FIS in the 90s. Mr. Sadi was surrounded by an exaggerated number of anti-riot policemen who prevented him from using his loud speaker. “They did everything in their power to isolate Mr. Abdenour Ali Yahia (90 year-old lawyer and honorary president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights) and myself from the protesters”, Sadi complained.
The interior minister announced that 14 arrests had been made. Conversely, the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) reported that over 300 people had been arrested in various cities across the Northern African country, including Algiers, Oran (west), Annaba (east), where demonstrations had also taken place. According to AFP, LADDH did not precise the number of arrests made by the anti-riot police.
The second biggest anti-government protest took place in Oran, where about 400 people reportedly gathered at La Place du Premier Novembre. According to eyewitness reports, about 30 protesters, including the local leader of CNCD, professor Kadour Chouicha and his son, were arrested. The two latter detainees have since been released.
Following the departure of presidents Zine el Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the Algerian opposition’s call to oust the 74-year old Abdelazziz Bouteflika, the country’s president, is gaining root. Mr. Bouteflika revised the country’s constitution in November, 2008, to allow a sitting president to stand for re-election as many times as he wishes. He was re-elected to his third term in office in April, 2009. Since the country’s independence from France, Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), later joined by Le Rassemblement National Démocratique (RND), has been at the helm of affairs in Algeria.
After the violent riots in January, the Algerian government has moved to control the prices of basic necessities and promised that the state of emergency, imposed in 1992, would be removed. But the opposition argue that these measures are not satisfactory and have sworn to return to the streets.